Community Coach Blog, Dan Rous, 9 September 2021
On Tuesday of this week, I was privileged to be part of the facilitation team for a Scottish focussed UK Jamboree for Asset Based Community Development, or ABCD as it’s easier to call it! I’ve spoken about this method of community work in a previous blog, and this online Jamboree was a chance to celebrate all that is good about communities.
The first UK gathering happened around 6 months ago and an outcome from that was to have regionally run gatherings, showcasing all that was great and good in different areas to a wider audience. A Scottish team was quickly established and together we set about to plan an event that would be the first one in the baton passing format. So I joined a team that included Community Development workers from the Strathcarron Hospice Compassionate Communities team, a Community Coordinator from Corra Foundation based in the West of Scotland, and the founder of Village in the City in Edinburgh. We quickly assembled a plan with some speakers, 2 of whom would do 20 minutes and 4 would do 5 minutes. This meant we could squeeze as much great stuff into the half day session as possible.
Just short of 100 people gathered for the event from around the whole UK and beyond – including from Bulgaria, Poland, Portugal and South Africa! All of them gathered for a good time of celebration but I don’t think any of us were prepared for just how inspired and enthused we were going to be. So here’s some highlights from each of the speakers that I picked up and hopefully they’ll inspire and enthuse you as well.
Cormac Russell, Nurture Development
Cormac is the go to guy for all things ABCD and pulled the first UK Jamboree together. He kicked things off with a few words of welcome. He spoke about the power of people and reminded us that it’s all about the process, not just the product. This all relates wonderfully to how you just engage with and work alongside people towards a goal, but how because of the strengths and ideas people bring, the end goal may be different to what was first thought out. The journey to get there strengthens the community to sustain whatever the outcome was. He also encouraged us to stay “in trouble” and quoted from the Leonard Cohen song, Anthem: “Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget the perfect offering. There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” (I’ll put the full song video at the end of the blog). As always, simply brilliant from Cormac.
Fiona McKenzie, CentreStage
This is an arts project in Kilmarnock but really is so much more than that. Fiona spoke of creating a Welcoming Happy Place where people write their own stories. They even received some funding from a regular funder to “do something” and the outcomes were worked out later. The aim being that the Centre users had the say in what developed. The key quote here being that “choice brings empowerment”. How often have I mentioned about stopping doing stuff to people but just work alongside them and let them lead the way? This project is a shining example of that.
Tamsin Ferrier, Denny Poppies
Tamsin is a resident in Denny who, during Lockdown, had the idea of creating a Remembrance Day project that was similar to something achieved in her original home town. She admitted she has lots of ideas but struggles to keep quiet! (we know a few people like that too!) The amazing thing about this project was the ripple effect created by such a simple idea to make poppies to decorate the town. Tamsin spoke of how the project overcame negativity (you know the type – don’t do that because it’ll get wrecked), by simply focusing on the positives. Oh yeah, and not one poppy got wrecked. The takeaway message was this: “By everyone doing a little bit, we can make a huge, huge difference to where we live”. Brilliant.
Frances Park, Carbrain & Hillcrest Community Council
We heard about how real support for people in this area of Cumbernauld grew out of a frustration that every other support process was a referral system. Frances told us how they needed to support each other – they needed a voice – so they just started a swap shop. And from what started out as covid support, they now have a funded Development Worker and a Community Hub!
Lynne Boslem, Tamfourhill Community Hub
We heard of the journey from a group of 8 parents wanting a club for their children, to the amazing community resource that exists now and is still growing. Lynne spoke of the desire to truly meet the needs of the community but also about the challenges to learn things really quickly especially when it comes to asset transfer. Many were impressed with the Play Park, so an influx of visitors is to be expected! Although with many asking if adults can use the zip wire, they may have to supervise things closely!!
Leah Davcheva, Dragalevtsi, Sofia, Bulgaria
Reflecting the true European nature of Scotland, this project was highlighted as it is an outpost of the Edinburgh based “Village in the City” project. Leah spoke of “sparkling moments” from their project called The Triangle, where a community garden project has created so many opportunities for the people in the area. One resident said that they “spoke with people I had previously seen only behind car windows”. Leah added that the very fact that we know each others names is, I think, an achievement.
Sam Green / Mia McGregor, Creative Stirling / The Cube Project
Mia told us how her creative arts project was born out of frustration. She was fed up with always having to tick boxes, so decided to turn a box into something positive. From the grand total of £400 that she scraped together, 3 years later over 23,000 have engaged with the project and have had creativity sparked within them. She added that the cube works better if there’s no specific question and people can just take part and connect. Sam added that when we get to know each other, we treat each other better. Enough said!
Astoundingly, while the speakers were just selected because they were great, a couple of clear themes were picked up by people in the zoom chat and on twitter. Firstly that you only need a tiny spark of inspiration to make a huge difference. Secondly, getting to know people for who they are can really change a community. In fact one quote on the chat was “the more people in a community know each other by their first name, the safer that community is”. And that’s how simple developing a community can be – bring people together, help them to get to know each other properly and talk about their strengths. It’s about genuine relationships and connection.
There are many challenges within this way of thinking to those that think they hold the power and are perhaps perceived to be the ones who can make a difference. Nothing can happen without people so why don’t we turn things around and come together properly as local people and show them how it’s done. You have the real power. At the risk of repeating myself yet again, let’s stop looking for the negative and focus on the positive by creating even more new positives. (And for the record, all 20 trees are still growing nicely in the ground where the Tidy Clean Green volunteers planted them almost a month ago).
The tide is turning for the better but there is still so much to do – still more of you to meet – still more names we all need to get to know. Those who are getting involved already need some wing men/women. Who’s up for it? Come and join the growing Camelon and Tamfourhill community revolution.
Until next time, as promised, I’ll leave you with that Leonard Cohen song I mentioned above.